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Carlsbad, New Mexico

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Joe is something of an inspiration to me. I meet him in Carlsbad, New Mexico one evening in a supermarket parking lot. Having just purchased a cartful of groceries, I make the acquaintenance of Joe as I start loading my goodies into the van. It all starts with an odd noise, from across the dark parking lot a rhythmic scraping sound catches my attention.

Turning around I notice a man, a short, thin, wafer of a man, moving along with the assistance of a walker. With much effort, I notice he's expending a lot of energy to reach his desired destination, namely, me. As he slowly half-shuffles, half-drags himself along, my first impression of him is he's homeless, given the condition of his clothing and his disheveled, gaunt demeanor.

As he makes his advance, I make a guess as to what his curiosity in me could possibly be. I estimate his interest hinges on my giving him money, or perhaps food from my recent purchase. He looks destitute enough, so, I decide then and there to cave in to whatever request he might make of me.

Soon enough I hear a voice, and with urgent intonation, he starts calling for me. I immediately respond to his inquiry, and after greeting him whole-heartedly, he asks me if I can give him a ride. A ride is all he wants? I'm a little surprised by his request, given my earlier estimation of his intentions. At this point I feel somewhat ashamed for thinking all he wanted to do was bum some money off of me.

In any event, I ask where he wants to go and he tells me just down the street to another supermarket. Okay, no problem, I tell myself. After agreeing to give him a lift, I propose he ride in the back because, given his mobility challenges, he may have an easier time getting into and out of the van via the van's wide double-doors. Instead, he suggests riding up front with me, so, I quickly accommodate his request, helping him from his walker, then boosting him up into the passenger seat. At this point I've grown rather curious about this man, I know nothing of him, not even his name.

After jumping into the driver seat, he gives me the directions I need to wisk him off to the supermarket of his desire. During the drive he tells me his name is Joe and he's looking for work. Having minutes before applied for a job at the supermarket I just shopped at, he is intent on filling out a job application at the other market down the street. You see, Joe's been unemployed for 4 months now. I cringe when he tells me he's now homeless, and frequently lives and sleeps on the street when the weather isn't too cold or too wet. Fortunately, when the weather does take a turn for the worse, he has a friend in town who'll let him sleep inside.

Being handicapped all his life, I am impressed with Joe's courage and desire not to let his limitations get the best of him. During our visit he is positive, upbeat, optimistic, and hopeful. Not willing to give into his challenges, and not wishing to climb aboard his lifeboat that comes in the form of nearby family who can help him out in a pinch, Joe pushes forward with his job hunt. I think we can all learn a lot from Joe's determination and meddle, I know I certainly can.

Our little visit is a short, but, sweet experience, and after pulling into the supermarket parking lot, I assist Joe from the van to his walker. I pass Joe some money as I tell him goodbye, wish him well, then send him on his way. I don't have the heart to ask Joe if I can take his picture, I'm not sure why, it just doesn't seem like the right thing to do. With every profile I write, there's always going to be something missing, and that includes follow-up. Sometimes I wish I could follow-up on some of my profiles, and in the process, learn that the person is in a better space than they were when I met them. All I can do in Joe's case is hope that he's now employed, is not living on the street, and is in a healthier, happier place.

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